Special report by Harriet Whitehead and Naomi Herring.

FOOD and drink traders across Oxfordshire have tasted success after beating thousands to be named in this year’s UK Great Taste Awards.

This month, a total of 17 county companies, from independent bakeries to large national distributors, won a total of 54 awards between them.

We asked some of them what it means to be crowned among the best of the best.

Fino Olive Oil - a taste of the Mediterranean in Oxford


Among the growing number of independents and also a winner in this year’s awards was Susie Taylor of Fino Olive Oil, based near Summertown.

She won two Great Taste Awards this year for her dark and white balsamic vinegars.

Mrs Taylor, alongside her family, moved to Andalucia in 2003 ‘to have an adventure’. They bought a farm and began to contribute to local olive oil production. In 2007, having moved back to Oxfordshire, she founded her business, using produce from Spain.


She described herself as a ‘one-man-band’ in terms of her business and said it had ‘grown organically’ as more independent businesses seem to thriving.

The business owner said: “I think people’s perspective on food has changed in the last 20 years.”

She added this was because people were ‘more aware’ of where their food is coming from and how it is produced. She said she saw a lot of small businesses ‘booming’ and believed that they should be.

Whittard - putting the tea in Witney.


Whittard of Chelsea, established by Walter Whittard in 1886, moved from its original headquarters in Fleet Street after it was damaged during the Second World War.

The now-Witney-based business bagged no fewer than 11 gongs at this year's Great Taste Awards for its unusual teas and hot chocolate flavours.

Employees said they ‘loved the heritage’ and ‘nice history’ of their business.

The quality of products has always been ‘very important’ at Whittard, so the firm has a 'taste guarantee system' and ‘always enters bestsellers and new introductions’ into the Great Taste Awards.

Employees praised their ‘loyal customers’ and said it was ‘an exciting time’ for small businesses, as people are increasingly aware of what they were eating and drinking.

Cotswold Bakery's 24-carrot cake


Paul Barlow-Heal, founder of The Cotswold Bakery, won a Great Taste Award for his carrot, cardamom and pistachio cake.

He began his business in 2011, after feeling there was a lack of bakeries in the immediate area where ‘people could buy a decent cake’.

The business owner’s winning recipe is his own creation and is one of his ‘most popular’ products.

Made with ground almonds and fresh carrot, the gluten-free gateau is then topped with a cream cheese frosting, which is infused with lemon zest and pistachio. Mr Barlow-Heal attributed its success to it being ‘moist and light’.

His said his business was ‘growing every year’ due to local customers and Oxfordshire’s culinary environment, which he said was ‘really good right across the spectrum'.

Cotswold Fudge Co gets two bites of the raspberry


Cotswold Fudge Co. was set up by Sarah Hobbs and Jenny Silverthorne-Wright in 2012 and this year they celebrated winning two Great Taste Awards.

The local pair, who previously worked at Oxfam, were awarded for their Smooth Vanilla Fudge and Smooth Raspberry Split.

This adds to their existing two Great Taste Awards.

Ms Hobbs, on working with Oxfam, said: “That is where our values and ethics came from – we are 100 per cent Fairtrade.”

The pair said they would continue to enter the competition because it ‘focuses predominantly on small businesses, so has a nice feel’.

Ms Hobbs added: “It is nice to have advocates for small businesses in the area,” and credited Witney MP Robert Courts, for welcoming them and other small businesses to Parliament last year.

Delicioso - a taste of Spain in Berinsfield


The founders of Delicioso, Kate Shirley-Quirk and husband Jose Luis Alvarez Bernal, have won five awards this year.

Among their winning products were handmade olive oil biscuits tortas de Almendras and their Delicioso tortas de Naranja.

The couple set up their business in 2005, after Mr Luis was ‘surprised not to be able to get his favourite Spanish foods’.

They now have more than 80 suppliers all over Spain, many of which are small family businesses.

The UK-wide business launched online and now supply delis and restaurants, as well as larger places such as Selfridges.

They have 14 employees at their Berinsfield base and use their website, alongside Amazon, to sell products.

The couple are also judges for the awards and Mrs Shirley-Quirk said: “The food goes from one end of the spectrum to the other.”